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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  July 11, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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good evening. i'm tavis smiley. tonight, big little man in search of my asian self takes a deep dive into the experiences of asian-american men and examines why many of the negative stereotypes surrounding them still, unfortunately, persist to this very day. then we'll turn to a conversation with center simone campbell who's made it her mission to work for economic justice and immigration reform and has been challenged by the church hierarchy for advocating for the poor. we're glad you've joined us. those conversations coming up right now. ♪
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and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ race and gender stereotypes still dominate much of the american experience, but it's more often than not framed in a black and white dynamic tackling this from an asian perspective is university of oregon professor alex tizon called "big little man" which combines
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personal experience with an historical perspective. alex tizon, i'm honored to have you on this program. >> great to be here. thanks. i wonder if i could put upon you to read one paragraph -- you got your cheaters in your pocket? >> i've got my cheaters. >> i'm sorry to put you on the spot that way. there's one paragraph that just struck me as fascinating and illuminating about your experience through the lens of your parents. i wonder if i might read this paragraph that starts out "my grandparents bowed." >> my grandparents bowed to the americans and sought to learn from them. my parents sought to be them. it was part of the grotesque progression, the desire fueled my family's journey across the ocean, leaving everything familiar behind to plunge into a vast uncertainty with little thought of the perils. the final result of hundreds of years of cumulative reaching for the beloved. the fingers of desire struck the
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match. >> there's a lot packed in that paragraph. i wonder if you might unpack it for me. >> yes. i -- well, i grew up with a certain amount of embarrassment and shame about being asian in america during the '60s and '70s. and i didn't understand it at the time. but looking back on it now, as a man in his 50s, i'm older than you. >> barely. >> barely, yeah. i see that much of that baggage was passed on to me by my parents and grandparents and by my great-grandparents. it was part of this -- the colonial experience. i come from a country that was colonyized by first the spaniards and then the americans. and i think that that sense of shame and inferiority that i grew up with, that i didn't understand was something that i was given at birth, and i didn't
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really understand it until i was much older. >> how is that uniquely different from other cultures? because we could have this same conversation as i have in the past about certain negros. we could have it about hispanics, the latinos, the chicano culture. what makes that assimilationist journey or drive or longing different when we look at it in the asian culture? >> you know, i don't know if i can explain that in any kind of -- with any kind of scientific certainty. i can say that the intermarriage rates between asians who come to this country and whites is much higher between asian women and white men than any other combination of races. i think that a lot of asian cultures bow to the west andb48 look to the west for guidance in how to become, quote, unquote, civilized.
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and so there might be a stronger tendency among asian populations to unquestioningly seek out to be like the beloved, which in this case were our former colonizers. >> when you say that many in the asian culture look to the west for how to be civilized, i mean -- >> quote, unquote, civilized. >> exactly. you've got to unpack that for me. speaking of unpacking stuff. because i love this country, as i'm sure you love this country. >> i do. >> there are a lot of stains on our record when it comes to being uncivilized so that a particular culture looking to us for how to be civilized, particularly in the era that your parents arrived here, there's a disconnect for me here. >> well, there's a disconnect for me, too. i think there's a disconnect for
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many of us. we don't -- it's hard to understand the reasons why. for example, i have a hard time with the fact -- little-known fact that the united states, when they took over the philippines from spain, got involved in a war with native filipinos who wanted independence, and that particular war resulted in the deaths of between 200 or 600,000 filipinos. entire islands were just depopulated. that was the term used. depopulated. you don't hear much of that. in fact, you don't hear it ever in history books. i bring this up to my -- to my father when he was alive because my father was very much -- united states first, america is the best. he wished that the philippines was the 51st state of the united states. but i always brought up to him, yeah, it's a great country, but do you know what the americans did to our country when they
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took it over? do you remember that, dad? he didn't. he didn't know that. why was that? because the schools in the philippines were run by americans. they were -- the whole educational system was built by the americans when they took over in 1901 or 1902. >> you think he didn't know that, alex, or did not want to know that? >> both. >> he misremembered that intentionally. >> i think it was both. i think that his education didn't teach him that. i mean, he grew up learning about george washington and apples in the philippines. we don't even have apples in the philippines. he grew up all about -- he knew all about apples and he knew about how george washington grew up. he didn't know about the historical figures in our own country. part of it was learned. and the other part of it was just -- you know, was just this -- this deep admiration for americans and america. he really believed, for example,
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he believed completely that the united states liberated the philippines from japan during world war ii. and was forever grateful for that. >> share with me some of the stereotypes that persist to this day, as i mentioned at the top of this conversation about asian men that just, you know, rubbed you raw in the worst way. >> well, i mean, the predominant one is the stereotype of asian men as being small. and i'm using small in the largest sense. small, not just in stature, but small geopolitically small. that when it comes to -- when it comes to anything that involves strength or power, that asian men rank at the bottom. and that's the idea that i grew up with. i think it's a prevalent idea in
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the west. and there's reason for it. there's reason for it because in the last 200 years or so, asia has gone through -- asia was dominated by the west. there have been major, major famines in asia that have resulted in smaller populations, physically a lot of southern asians are smaller. so they're small physically. they were small economically. but that's changing. and they were weak geopolitically, which is also changing. all of this stuff is changing. with the economics going up and the political power increasing, that will translate down into other things like physical size. and so anyway, one of the stereotypes, in answer to your question, is that sense of asia and asians being small, which ignores a large chunk of the last 2,000 years in which asian
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civilizations were the preeminent civilizations on the planet. >> i wonder to what extent you think those changing realities, those changing dynamics that you just referenced will change the story and the image of asians, and particularly asian men because you're right, economically, i mean, china is all that and then some. but it's not just politically. i think, for example, of your countrymen who i'm a huge fan of, manny pacquiao. i mean, even in the world of sport. >> that's where the title came from. >> absolutely. i love manny. and in the world of sports, this guy has a fan base around the world who is this big little man, you know, who in the ring, more often than not, not always, is knocking people out. but sport plays such a huge role in our lives. i wonder whether or not you think that even, you know, his success, say nothing of the economic success of china and beyond will change this narrative in the years to come.
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>> you know, i hate to say it, but it will have -- it will actually have a larger impact on the perceptions of asian men than many other more important things. athletes have that kind of influence. they're so visible. they're so -- and what they do is so visual. and it communicates the quintessential qualities of what we consider masculine. i think that the landscape is going to change because there are hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of manny pacquiaos that have just not had the opportunity to emerge. but they're there. i think that as asia changes and as it gets richer, it has more time for sports and things like that, those athletes will emerge, and the perceptions of asian men will undergo -- in addition to all that other stuff, it will undergo a slow
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evolution. it may not happen in my lifetime, unfortunately. >> speaking of the landscape changing, i think in the coming years this narrative will change. but every one of us is on a search for our own identity, and this is a powerful text, a wonderful memoir about his own personal search, alex tizon is the author of the new book "big little man in search of my asian self." i've just scratched the surface tonight on what is in this text, but i think you'll find it a fascinating read. alex, good to have you on the program. congratulations, pmy friend. >> thank you very much, tavis. coming, a conversation with sister simone campbell about her new text, "a nun on the bus." stay with us. sister simone campbell joined the sisters of social service, the roman catholic religious community in the mid-'60s and has been a tireless advocate for social justice ever since. as an attorney and author, sister simone has made it her mission to work on behalf of the
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poor and disenfranchised. her latest text is called "a nun on the bus" which chronicles efforts by herself and her fellow sisters to speak truth to power. sister simone, i am honored to have you on this program. >> it's great to be with you. >> let me start, because i learned something -- and maybe i'm showing my own ignorance here -- i grew up in the pentecostal tradition, not the catholic church, but i did not know until your text, the technical distinction between a sister and a nun. >> right. and most people don't. a nun is someone who is usually in a community, enclosed, takes public solemn vows which is all technical. and most of us who are active communities like the teachers, social workers, those kinds of folks, we're sisters. it's a less restrictive life. and it is more engaged with service to people, taking the gospel to where it wouldn't be otherwise. and nuns are enclosed in
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contemplative, prayerful enclosed settings. >> did that make it -- i'm trying to find the right word here -- did that make it easier, more likely, or am i missing something here about the pushback that you ultimately see from the vatican, given that you are sisters and not nuns? >> well, i think that some of the misunderstanding by the vatican, most of the folks who are criticizing us in the vatican are not members of religious communities. obviously, none of them are catholic sisters so they really don't know what we're about. they think we ought to be more contained, more closed, more limited in where we take the gospel. and they've missed the whole point of what we've been about for the last 50 years of renewal is about living in the streets where the people are, taking the gospel to the streets. >> you unpack this in the text for those who remember hearing something about this but don't recall the details, set the stage for me what you all were doing that got the ire of song inside the vatican. >> that got us in trouble. >> that got you in trouble, yeah. >> the thing that i think was
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the trip wire for this was our position on the affordable care act in 2010. and the fact that our sisters had been working across the united states in service, places for decades. actually centuries. but what we did with the affordable care act was to stand in favor of it and support its passage. at the same time that our bishops stood in opposition to it. and the fact is that we knew there was no federal funding of abortion in the affordable care act. and our bishops were told by their staffs that there was. so they felt they had to oppose it even though they were given wrong information. i had read the bill. i knew what was in it. i knew what it, so i felt perfectly comfortable supporting the catholic health association who stood for it. we stood for it and sisters around the country signed a letter i wrote saying that they supported it as a way forward. it became the tipping point that allowed the affordable care act to pass. now, the affordable care act is
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not perfect, but it's way better than anything that we had. so it's a good step forward. >> how, then, did this idea to get on the bus? because you sisters, you nuns, got on the bus. i mean, and i was pleased. i've done this tours. but i was just so pleased at the response and the media attention. everybody was covering this bus tour you all were on. >> it's so amazing. the thing was it came because we had been censured by the vatican because very quickly i got tired about talking about sisters, what it means to be a sister because we're not about having the spotlight on ourselves, but how do we use this moment for mission? and what came to me in prayer is to ask for help. that we had two small of an imagination to solve this problem. so we invited colleagues in d.c. to come together on may 14th at our office.
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and no one remembers who first said road trip. but by the end of an hour and a half meeting, we were going on the road. we were pushing back against the paul ryan budget. we were lifting up the works of our sisters. and we were going in a rawrap b. i had no idea what that was. w-r-a-p, not r-a-p. one of them is paul ryan, which is always fascinating for me because you are catholic. paul ryan is catholic. the head of the budget committee. >> exactly. >> give me some sense of yourdy filled? tension less? >> we're both interested in each other. and i had a meeting with him about two weeks ago. and he is really concerned about poverty. our new pope is challenging him because he is a faithful catholic. but he's still using just free market analysis. the market can take care of it.
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but what is abundantly clear is if the market could be taken care of, it would be taken care of. the fact is it's not sufficient. i was pushing him a bid to consider other alternatives that government has to create good policy. and so we had a nice 15-minute meeting. those meetings just go in 15-minute increments. but we had a good 15-minute meeting. we agreed that poverty was an issue. we disagreed on what to do about it. but then at the end i could talk to him about immigration reform. and we both agreed that is something that needs to be accomplished. and he's working in his own way to try to make that a reality in the house of representatives. so there's agreement and disagreement. but it's substantive. as a person, we try to -- i think both he and i would say we try to work together. >> what work are you attempting to accomplish now? specifically with regard to immigration reform? i know it's a priority for you. and i know it's a priority for the catholic church. >> absolutely. >> in part because you have
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parishioners. i was trying to be generous about it. trying to be charitable. >> i'll just cut to the chase here. >> cut to the chase. you always do. please, go ahead. >> well, we do care about immigration reform, but it's because the people in our society, most of those who have overstayed their visas are contributing to our society, and we should include them. and bring them out from the shadows. that's just wrong. but what we know is our economy would grow. is that we would have a better community, that we the people would be a better nation to do this, and we need to fix our system for going forward because we're in this predicament because we have really a 20th century immigration policy when we're in the 21st century. we need a new policy. there's basic agreement about how to have that happen. what we need to do is shake something loose out of the house of representatives. in the house of representatjált right now, there's basically three parties. there's the democrats and the republicans, and then there's the teañparty. and poor speaker boehner is
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trying to be the head of two parties at one time, and they're diametrically opposed. what we have to do is get beyond the fear factor. i keep saying fear not. do the right thing. have the courage to do the right thing. and the fact is is that real republicans, not fearful, frightened republicans, and not tea party people, but real republicans who are business republicans know we need it. so we've got a commitment on their part that we need it. we just have to make it happen politically. >> i'm curious as to how one goes about the business of having meaningful conversation with one who you share your fundamental core christian beliefs with but disagree with politically. i mean, you and paul ryan -- i want to go back to this. i don't want to jump too fast on this. when you two of you get together, you do come from the same spiritual place, and you're both good catholics, but then the politics get involved.
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how do you come out of those conversations with any sort of good use of time? >> well, what i try to do is to connect the conversation to the stories of real people. because it's when we get in our academic theoretical heads that we can argue forever. and he pointed that out. that we could have this argument forever. but when i talk about specific folks like robin who's working full time at minimum wage but having to live in a homeless shelter because she doesn't make enough money to pay rent in the d.c. area. i mean, that's just basically wrong in the richest nation on earth. >> do you think he feels that, though? >> i think -- i think i'm eroding some of the hardness of hearts that he can open himself to. for you, his answer is that we just need a more -- we need a market where labor is scarcer to encourage, you know, the ceos to pay more. but i also think we need government policies that push
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that since ceos -- average ceos now making above $10 million a year. i figured out that in three hours, ceos making that $10 million make $3,000 an hour. and in three hours, they make as much as robin working minimum wage does in a whole year. that's wrong. that is wrong. so i think i'm eroding a bit the hardness of hearts in helping him at least know there's something more out there. >> how did all of this -- and i say all of this -- all of who you are -- coalesce into this being? because you are a sister. you are a lawyer. you are a lobbyist. >> yeah. >> you are an advocate. i mean, how did all this happen? it ended up being sister simone campbell? >> well, i say it's the holy spirit's fault. the holy spirit's making mischief. >> yeah. >> i don't know. i was always a deeply spiritual person as a kid. gospel always mattered to me. but jesus was always about justice.
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i admired dr. king immensely. i remember as a kid watching the kids in birmingham, alabama, stand up and being so moved by their commitment. so this was all a part of it. but then it's just been like gift. just gift. and i describe my spirituality as just walking willing. going to the places where i'm led. and letting people break my heart. over and over. but you know what happens, tavis? i've discovered when my heart's broken, it's like it's broken open to have room for more people. and then hope is released. when we're in touch with each other and hear the real stories, that's where hope is nourished. and you can't do it alone. i can only do it in relationship. and so it's like -- it's a great gift. it's a gift to me. >> i want to close by asking how it is that you sustain your hope. how do you sustain your hope? and i think the answer might be found in the very last paragraph of this text. i wonder if i might implore you
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to read it for me. >> sure. i haven't read it with that question in mind. let's see. >> it is my faith. this is my question. how do you sustain your hope? >> it is my faith that keeps me on this path. on the good days, the contemplative life keeps me open to all of creation and gives me the energy to share this stance with others. on the more challenging days, the contemplative life sustains me through the treasured uncertainty. i know at all times that the spirit abides with all of us and will not leave us orphaned. this is the promise that breaks hearts, releases hope, and in the process, brings joy beyond understanding. this, for me, is living the gospel in a turbulent world. this is the mission of network, my organization, and the bus. so join us on the bus as we drive and strive for faith, family and fairness. join us in creating community so that our democracy can survive
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and join us in our fervent prayer. come, holy spirit. renew the face of the earth. >> that's beautiful. profound. the book is called "a nun on the bus." how all of us can create hope, change and community by sister simone campbell. delighted to have had you on this program. thank you for your time. >> thank you. such an honor to be with you. >> delighted to have had you. that's our show for tonight. thank you for watching, and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. i'm tavis smiley. join me next time with the british heavy metal band def leppard now on tour with kiss. that's next time. we'll see you then.
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and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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